Rail (UK)


Chief Ex­ec­u­tive MARK PHILLIPS ex­plains how RSSB is help­ing the in­dus­try to meet the chal­lenges posed by COVID-19

- Business · Network Rail Route 18 · United Kingdom · Rail Safety and Standards Board · Mark Phillips

RSSB has been at the very heart of the rail sec­tor for al­most two decades. Es­tab­lished in 2003 in the af­ter­math of the fa­tal crash at Lad­broke Grove, it has been tasked with lead­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­dus­try-wide ef­forts to cre­ate a bet­ter­per­form­ing, safer rail­way ever since.

For­merly known as the Rail Safety and Stan­dards Board, the not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion’s re­mit in­cludes manag­ing and de­vel­op­ing Rail­way Group Stan­dards on be­half of the rail in­dus­try, lead­ing the de­vel­op­ment of long-term safety strat­egy, and sup­port­ing cross-in­dus­try groups that ad­dress ma­jor ar­eas of safety risk.

Since 2012, it has also fa­cil­i­tated the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Rail Tech­ni­cal Strat­egy, which calls on in­dus­try to find in­no­va­tive tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions to the mul­ti­ple chal­lenges it col­lec­tively faces over the next 30 years.

RSSB pro­vides tech­ni­cal sup­port via its own re­search and de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme and em­ploys more than 270 spe­cial­ist staff cover­ing a range of tech­ni­cal dis­ci­plines - in­clud­ing operations, en­gi­neer­ing, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and risk as­sess­ment.

Lead­ing RSSB’s day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties is

CEO Mark Phillips, who tells RAIL how his or­gan­i­sa­tion’s wealth of ex­per­tise has been de­ployed to sup­port the in­dus­try’s re­sponse to the out­break of Coron­avirus in late March.

“One of the first things we did was to dis­cuss with our mem­bers - in par­tic­u­lar Net­work Rail and the trade unions - the prin­ci­ples around which work on the net­work could con­tinue safely. Along­side col­leagues at the Rail De­liv­ery Group and the Of­fice of Rail and Road, we agreed those prin­ci­ples so that rou­tine main­te­nance and re­newals could go ahead to keep the rail­way run­ning for key work­ers and vi­tal freight.

“The next stage was to talk to train op­er­a­tors about how they needed to re­flect changes in their safety man­age­ment sys­tems in or­der to keep the risk of trans­mis­sion as low as pos­si­ble for staff and pas­sen­gers, as timeta­bles were slowly brought back up to near pre-pan­demic lev­els.

“Dur­ing the sum­mer, we then started to de­velop our own trans­mis­sion mod­els so that we could fur­ther help to build up con­fi­dence with pas­sen­gers and op­er­a­tors around trav­el­ling by train.”

Pub­lished in early Au­gust, this anal­y­sis by RSSB cal­cu­lated that the risk of con­tract­ing COVID-19 while trav­el­ling by train was ap­prox­i­mately 1-in-11,000 jour­neys.

Fur­ther­more, the risk was be­lieved to more than halve if pas­sen­gers wear face cov­er­ings (which have been manda­tory on the net­work since June), with the over­all safety risk for trav­el­ling by car deemed to be 25 times less safe than rail.

RSSB’s find­ings suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the public per­cep­tion that trains rep­re­sented a hotspot of in­fec­tion and that use of pri­vate road ve­hi­cles was a safer al­ter­na­tive.

Phillips adds: “Our trans­mis­sion model was and is an op­por­tu­nity for the public to see that trav­el­ling by train is safe, as we look to get back to do­ing the things that we used to do. We will con­tinue to up­date and re­fresh the model to re­flect changes to the wider risk of COVID19 in the com­mu­nity, and are also look­ing to de­velop a tool so that op­er­a­tors can up­date it them­selves for their par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances.

“We’ve been quite busy, and it’s been novel be­cause we haven’t had to ad­dress these types of con­cerns be­fore. But I think it’s en­abled us to work with lots of or­gan­i­sa­tions that we haven’t done be­fore, and to build a much closer re­la­tion­ship with our mem­bers.

“Typ­i­cally, much of our pre­vi­ous work has been quite long-term, but we’ve had to come up with im­me­di­ate so­lu­tions to meet the in­dus­try’s needs now - not just in years to come.”

Fol­low­ing re­ports in early Novem­ber of an ef­fec­tive vac­cine be­com­ing avail­able early next year, thoughts are be­gin­ning to turn to­ward the UK’s emer­gence from the Coron­avirus pan­demic.

The full im­pli­ca­tions of the pan­demic on fu­ture de­mand for rail travel are yet to be borne out, al­though there is broad con­sen­sus that a pre-ex­ist­ing shift to­wards greater home work­ing and less peak-time travel has been ac­cel­er­ated.

Phillips ex­plains: “I think the im­pact on rail is too early to tell. But the signs are that mass com­mut­ing is less likely and that peo­ple will still use the train, but for more spe­cific pur­poses such as meet­ings and events.

“That means that flex­i­ble tick­et­ing needs to be sorted out very quickly. Peo­ple aren’t go­ing to want to buy an­nual sea­son tick­ets and de­posit £ 6,000-£10,000 with a rail­way com­pany in ad­vance of any travel.”

Phillips ar­gues that as well as pos­ing a threat to the in­dus­try, the pan­demic has also cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity to re­make the case for rail’s con­tin­ued role as an eco­nomic mul­ti­plier and one of the most sus­tain­able means of travel.

He is there­fore urg­ing the in­dus­try to pro­duc­tively use the re­main­ing du­ra­tion of the pan­demic to de­sign its own des­tiny, so that it will be in a stronger po­si­tion to re­spond to any fu­ture-de­mand sce­nario and be ready to kick­start the UK econ­omy.

It must show govern­ment and the wider public that con­tin­u­ing to in­vest in rail travel is vi­tal, and that it re­mains an at­trac­tive op­tion that aids pro­duc­tiv­ity, leisure and other con­nec­tions between peo­ple, while also help­ing to curb cli­mate change.

“It’s al­most as if you have brown pa­per up at the win­dow and you’re busy do­ing the in­ter­nal re­fur­bish­ment be­hind the scenes,” says Phillips.

“We need to make good use of this time, so that when pas­sen­gers do re­turn, they are pleas­antly sur­prised by what they find.

“I think that there comes a point where peo­ple be­gin to get bored within their own con­fines, so there is def­i­nitely an op­por­tu­nity to en­cour­age travel - even though it will be a dif­fer­ent sort of ar­range­ment than we’ve been used to in the past.

“Be­fore Coron­avirus, the net­work was al­most at ca­pac­ity. This might pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to re­bal­ance how the sys­tem works, so that it’s more re­li­able and en­joy­able for the end user and over­all sat­is­fac­tion be­comes higher than it has been of late.

“Rel­a­tively speak­ing, we are a small in­dus­try, and we have to spend less time wor­ry­ing about in­ter­nal de­mar­ca­tions and who does what be­cause our joint pur­pose is to win cus­tomers away from road and to build a bet­ter Bri­tain.”

He adds: “Rail has been phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful over the last 200 years in stim­u­lat­ing

We have to demon­strate fan­tas­tic per­for­mance, a re­li­able prod­uct and be bet­ter with pas­sen­gers. Mark Phillips, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, RSSB

Bri­tain’s econ­omy, and I be­lieve it con­tin­ues to of­fer that op­por­tu­nity. But we have to make sure that we don’t lose that chance.

“We have to demon­strate fan­tas­tic per­for­mance, a re­li­able prod­uct and be bet­ter with pas­sen­gers, be­cause we know that cus­tomer ser­vice can be a bit patchy and that in­for­ma­tion can be spo­radic and not as ac­cu­rate as it should be. Per­haps COVID-19 will al­low us to do some ground­work and get to that bet­ter place.”

The in­dus­try chart­ing its own route for­ward will also be im­por­tant, given that govern­ment is cur­rently pro­vid­ing an es­ti­mated £ 900 mil­lion per month in fi­nan­cial sup­port to keep ser­vices run­ning while de­mand re­mains low.

Al­though this fi­nan­cial back­ing is a sign that rail re­mains a key pri­or­ity for govern­ment, it seems likely that pres­sure will grow from within the Trea­sury for cost op­ti­mi­sa­tion if rev­enue re­mains low.

Phillips does not shy away from this chal­lenge and agrees the in­dus­try will need to demon­strate value for money and that it can be more ef­fi­cient.

He points to the RSSB model es­tab­lished in 2003 that was built on the premise that im­prove­ments in safety and stan­dards can be made by adopt­ing best prac­tice col­lab­o­ra­tively. He says that this re­duces cost and the need for com­pa­nies to in­vent or in­vest in their own so­lu­tions, as well as hav­ing the po­ten­tial to fur­ther im­prove sus­tain­abil­ity and per­for­mance as well as safety, health and well­be­ing.

“We’ve been very for­tu­nate for the last 20 years to have this five-year fund­ing set­tle­ment and it would be a re­ally ret­ro­grade step if we moved away from those longert­erm ar­range­ments. But clearly there is go­ing to be a re­newed fo­cus on cost and ef­fi­ciency.

“There are two things we can do. Firstly, as a mem­ber­ship body, we have to be as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble and or­gan­ise and carry out our work, so it pro­vides the best value for money.

“The work we do must also be of suf­fi­cient qual­ity to en­able the in­dus­try to re­duce its costs. For ex­am­ple, if you take stan­dards, we are work­ing with govern­ment on its Restor­ing Beech­ing agenda, be­cause it might not be that you want na­tional rail stan­dards to ap­ply to all of those routes if it makes them too ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate. Pro­duc­ing some­thing that’s lower cost so that those lines can re­open at an af­ford­able amount of money is the sort of ini­tia­tive we can help in­dus­try with.

“We also have our long-stand­ing re­search and tech­nol­ogy pro­gramme, which is im­por­tant be­cause the in­dus­try does need to look for­ward in terms of what we do dif­fer­ently in five to ten years’ time.

“We help to make sure re­search is joined up with other pro­grammes [like Net­work Rail’s], and we have been work­ing with uni­ver­si­ties on a lot of re­search into how you do things bet­ter and cheaper - for in­stance, how you might re­pro­file rolling stock wheels more ef­fi­ciently or how we can re­duce the like­li­hood of pan­tographs dam­ag­ing over­head lines.”

While COVID-19 has pro­vided a short, sharp shock to the in­dus­try, the end hope­fully ap­pears to be in sight. De­spite the im­me­di­ate pri­or­i­ties and changes that may well now fol­low, no­body should doubt RSSB’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to help po­si­tion rail as a longterm so­lu­tion.

Phillips con­cludes: “We should make no mis­take that the pan­demic has had a hugely dam­ag­ing im­pact on the in­dus­try, and we are hugely grate­ful for the sup­port the Govern­ment has given us.

“But we are where we are, and the op­por­tu­nity is there for us to grasp what we have learned from this process and what we can em­bed into work­ing dif­fer­ently in fu­ture.”

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 ?? PAUL ROBERT­SON. ?? East Mid­lands Rail­way 156410 ap­proaches East Mid­lands Park­way on Septem­ber 22 with the 0930 Le­ices­terLin­coln, while EMR 43310 pre­pares to de­part with the 0834 St Pan­cras In­ter­na­tion­alNot­ting­ham. De­spite the huge chal­lenges posed by Coron­avirus, the rail in­dus­try must not lose sight of its role in solv­ing longer-term prob­lems such as cli­mate change, says RSSB.
PAUL ROBERT­SON. East Mid­lands Rail­way 156410 ap­proaches East Mid­lands Park­way on Septem­ber 22 with the 0930 Le­ices­terLin­coln, while EMR 43310 pre­pares to de­part with the 0834 St Pan­cras In­ter­na­tion­alNot­ting­ham. De­spite the huge chal­lenges posed by Coron­avirus, the rail in­dus­try must not lose sight of its role in solv­ing longer-term prob­lems such as cli­mate change, says RSSB.

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